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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is John Livesay, he is also known as The Pitch Whisperer. He’s a sales expert and storytelling keynote speaker on sales, marketing, negotiation and persuasion. He’s also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, Better Selling Through Storytelling, the essential roadmap to becoming a revenue rockstar. So John, welcome to the show.
John Livesay: Thanks for having me, John.
John Jantsch: I think a lot of marketers, even increasingly small business owners are kind of getting into this idea of story telling as a great marketing tactic. But how would you describe storytelling in the sales, purely sales environment?
John Livesay: Well, the old way of selling is to push out a bunch of information, hope some of it sticks. And it just doesn’t work anymore. So what storytelling does, is it allows you to be memorable and magnetic because we’re wired to listen to stories in a very different way than we do when someone’s giving us a bunch of information of features and things. And stories pull us in and also our defenses go down.
John Livesay: When you tell a good story of a case study and turn that into an interesting story with a little bit of drama or personal story of why you became a lawyer or an entrepreneur or an architect, whatever it is you are doing, that’s what people remember about you. And when you’re going up against competitors, if you really want to be memorable, people say, “Oh well, we hope to go last if it’s a final three, but you can’t control that. What you can control is telling a good story.”
John Jantsch: Would you say that this is sort of new to selling? That it’s not the way that maybe was taught in the traditional sales training of 10 years ago?
John Livesay: I would say it is a relatively new awareness of its importance. Traditional selling was, tell them what the features are and then tell them what the benefits are and show how it solves a problem. But there was no story there. I was working with an architecture firm and they traditionally would go in for these final three, one hour presentations, pitches, interviews, whatever you want to call it. And show their work and think, well whoever has the best design to remodel a law firm or an airport, will get the business.
John Livesay: It was all about … Or an ad agency goes in to pitch to win new clients, “Well, here’s our work.” There was just no story about them, or how they came up with the concept or another story of somebody they helped. And so this awareness that whoever tells the best story is going to get the yes, is something that a lot of people are going, “Wow, we really need to learn to become better storytellers.”
John Jantsch: This is off the topic a little bit, but in researching your work in preparation for this interview. I stumbled upon a YouTube video, of you being interviewed by Larry King. And so I’m curious how that came about. Just because I don’t think of Larry King interviewing sales authors.
John Livesay: Well, he has a show called Breakfast with Larry King. And a friend of mine is one of the elite group of people that gets to have breakfast with him on a regular basis. And one of them is named Cal Fussman who was a journalist for Esquire Magazine and Cal’s also a keynote speaker. And he had said, “I’ve got to learn how to sell myself as a speaker and I’m a journalist, I don’t know how to sell.” I said, “Oh, but Cal, you know how to tell great stories and you know how to ask great questions. So let me show you how your journalists skill of storytelling can help you sell yourself.” And that was a big light bulb moment for him. And then he said, “Oh, I want to have you on the show with Larry King.” And I did my research, as you could imagine, Larry’s done over 60,000 interviews.
John Livesay: And I read that he does not like small talk. I had some things ready to go that were about him and not about the weather or anything. And one of it was, he got his big break interviewing Frank Sinatra when he was just as a radio DJ and not a television personality. And I had mentioned to him off camera, I said, “I really love that story of you interviewing Frank Sinatra caused you to get your big break.” And he smiled and said, “That was a good night.”
John Livesay: On camera, he’s looking at my book and he said, “Your book is called Better Selling Through Storytelling, what makes a good story?” And John, I don’t know what made me have the courage to say this. I said, “Well, you have such a great story of how you got discovered by interviewing Frank Sinatra, would you mind telling that story? And then we can break down the elements of that for the audience?” And he goes, “Sure,” so he told the story and then I broke it down into the four elements of what makes a good story, which is basically exposition, painting a picture, there’s a problem and there’s a solution, and then the secret sauce is resolution. And I’m happy to share that story if you want to hear it, but that’s how that all happened.
John Jantsch: That is fun. You mentioned and maybe we can weave the story in there, but I want to also get into some of the other elements of the book. You mentioned one of favorite words, problems. It’s not really a favorite word necessarily, but I’ve discovered that a lot of times people searching for a solution don’t actually know what the problem is or can’t really articulate it. It’s just, I don’t have enough sales or my business just doesn’t feel right.
John Jantsch: And what I’ve found is that storytelling, a lot of times, or at least telling the story of how they maybe got to this point or something, a lot of times helps them actually understand the problem. And I think there’s such a strong connection, at least I’ve discovered the person who can actually describe or articulate or, you mentioned empathy, have empathy with what the real problem is. I think a lot of times has such an advantage, don’t they?
John Livesay: Well, they really do John. I always like to say that the better you describe the problem and show empathy for the people experiencing the problem, the better the potential buyer thinks you have their solution. That’s when you get that aha moment where someone says, “Oh, you get me or you are in my shoes.” And if someone isn’t able in psychotherapy when people come in for therapy, they say, “Oh, I’m here because I’m having trouble sleeping.
John Livesay: And that’s known as the presenting problem. That’s not really the core problem. The problem is they’ve got money issues or whether something else is keeping them up besides sleep problems. So I think the same is true. As salespeople, we need to think of ourselves as almost doctors a little bit, where we’re asking questions and not just accepting the first problem somebody says is the reason they’re here.
John Jantsch: Yeah, because so often they’re not ready to even hear a conversation about what we sell, because they can’t really connect their problem with our solution. I mean, isn’t that kind of a lot of the danger of just showing up and going, here’s what you need.
John Livesay: Yeah, until you realize you have a problem that needs some help, it’s the difference between Advil for a migraine versus you need a vitamin to prevent you sick. It’s like, I don’t really need an Advil, if it’s just the vitamin. But that’s what storytelling is so great at. If you describe another person that’s very similar to the person you’re in front of, and here’s what I found out. You tell the story, two years ago they came to me, they weren’t quite sure what was wrong with their business, they knew they needed more sales and the problem was just sort of hazy for them.
John Livesay: And after working with them, we define that there’s really three obstacles, and here’s what those three obstacles were and here’s the solution we came up with. And now a year after using my product or service, their life is so much better. That’s the resolution. Their sales are up 10%, they’re not stressed out, they feel better. So you’re giving all kinds of … And if that sounds like the kind of journey you’d like to go on, then we might be able to work together. Now you’re closing question is, because that sounds like the kind of journey you’d like to go on, not do you want to buy my product?
John Jantsch: You just showed me how to structure a story around a problem. What about the what’s every salesperson’s initial problem? I don’t get a chance to tell the story because I can’t get my foot in the door. Is there a way to use storytelling or, I know you talk a lot about elevator pitches for gaining trust. How do you get that kind of first chance to tell the story?
John Livesay: Well, I think a lot of it is to be aware that people have three unspoken questions before they let you come in. Or even when they’re on the phone or in person with them. And the first one is, it’s a gut thing, do I trust you? And that’s really whether it’s a fight-or-flight response came. Is it safe to talk open this email? Is it safe to even have a conversation with you? And it moves from the gut to the heart, do I like you?
John Livesay: Are you showing any empathy, likability? And then it goes into the head and you might be telling a story about how you’ve helped other people. People are thinking, “Well, would this work for me?” And if they can’t see themselves in the story, they still won’t do it. So I think getting your foot in the door, especially if you’re here to, let’s say a networking event, a good elevator pitch is not an invitation for a 10 minute monologue.
John Livesay: I tell people, make it very conversational. Literally start out with, “You know how a lot of sales teams are struggling to make themselves be memorable and not just be selling on price? Well, what I do is I help people go from invisible to irresistible and I’m called The Pitch Whisper.” And that’s all I say, and that usually intrigues people enough to say, “Huh, what’s a pitch whisper?” Or, “How do you go from invisible to irresistible?” But you described the problem of, “Oh yeah, I’m struggling with being memorable,” or “I’m struggling with only being seen as a commodity.”
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John Jantsch: We’ve all probably seen that person that just holds a whole entire dinner party wrapped with their storytelling. They just seem to be really good at it. Is there a way for … Because I’m sure there’s a whole lot of listeners out there going, “Well, I’m just terrible at it, I can’t think of a story to tell. I stumbled through the details,” or whatever they’re thinking. Is there a way to get better at it?
John Livesay: Yes, it’s like any other skill. You practice it, the awareness of what makes a good story are those four elements that I talked about earlier. Don’t just start in describing the problem. Give us some perspective, in order for us to be in the story, we have to paint the picture. And have a little bit of drama in your problem.
John Livesay: Don’t make the problem seem so easy that it’s not interesting, and there’s no conflict or it’s a suspense of whether it’s going to get solved or not. And a really great story has a little resolution bumper surprise to it that makes people go, “Oh,” and you know, you’ve told a really great story John, when other people want to share it with their friends.
John Jantsch: Do you think of readily of an example, that bumper surprise element?
John Livesay: Yes. Let’s go back to the Larry King example. So Larry King gets the opportunity to interview Frank Sinatra at a time when nobody … He wasn’t doing any press interviews because his son had just been kidnapped. This is in the 60s and he was really mad at the media because they were saying it was due to Frank Sinatra’s mafia connections. So Jackie Gleason is a friend of Larry King’s from an interview and offers to set up the interview. Goes really well and Frank brings up the kidnapping and so it was great. And then he invites him to bring a date to come here and sing the next day.
John Livesay: And Larry’s thinking, “Oh man, this is great. Whoever I bring is going to think I’m really hot stuff.” And Larry didn’t have a lot of money at the time. And they’re sitting at the front table by the stage and Frank calls his name out. And, so Larry is just like, “Oh, the evening couldn’t have gone better.” And he’s driving his date back to her place and she’s like, “Oh, stop here and buy some coffee for tomorrow morning, I don’t have any.”
John Livesay: And this is before a lot of ATMs, and credit cards were being used and Larry didn’t have any cash on him. He didn’t want to blow the whole cool guy image, so he walks into the store, comes back a few minutes, she’s like, “Where’s the coffee?” He goes, “They couldn’t change a hundred.” That’s the resolution of the story. Now, he just had the story of, “I interviewed Frank Sinatra, I got my big break.” That’s interesting, but it’s not nearly as memorable as that whole journey of the date.
John Jantsch: Yeah, so how do salespeople … I mean, how do you suggest, because again, that was a great story. Even people that have things like that, that happened in their lives sometimes don’t connect all the dots to that being great story. How do we kind of unearth those great stories? Because I think, obviously with salepeople, sometimes it’s a client thing or, but I always find the best stories or stuff that happened to us.
John Livesay: Well, I can tell you an example of I’m helping Gensler the world’s largest architecture firm, win $1 billion sale renovating the Pittsburgh Airport when they were up against two other firms and they were literally told, “Look, anybody can do … You’re all in the final three. You can all do the work. We’re going to hire the people we like the most.” And that’s when they went, “Whoa,” these soft skills actually make you strong. Soft skills of storytelling, confidence, likability, empathy.
John Livesay: The story that I helped them turn their case study, which they basically had some great before after pictures of another airport and another airline that they had helped, but there was no story there. So we use the same structure, we’d said, okay, two years ago the exposition is, JFK approached us to renovate the waiting for Jet Blue. And the problem was during that time we had to rip up all the floors in the middle of the night, and get it all done so that the stores could open at 9:00 AM the next morning without losing revenue.
John Livesay: We had all our vendors on call during the night and sure enough at two in the morning, a fuse blew and we had somebody there in 20 minutes to fix it. And at 8:59 the last tile went down and all the stores opened. And then a year after the design, sales are up 15% of the retail stores because people are spending more time shopping because of what we’ve done with our design.
John Livesay: That is hitting all of the elements. The exposition, we know what airline, when all of that. So we’re there, we see it, then we know the problem. Got to rip up all the floors, there’s a little bit of drama. And so instead of just saying, “We used critical thinking when we do a project.” They showed it in a story instead of telling it. And then the solution is the store is open on time, but the resolution of that story is sales are up 15% because of the design a year later.
John Jantsch: Yeah, the value. All right, so I’m telling the story and it’s going really well. I’ve got a great story, but then the objections come. And maybe it’s a different skill, but it’s going to happen. How do we link the story together with maybe the objections?
John Livesay: The two most common objections are, we don’t have enough money or, this isn’t a good time for us to make a decision, correct? So your question is, how can storytelling help overcome one of those kinds of objections?
John Jantsch: Yeah, maybe. Because I’m thinking people get good at this story part, and it paints a good picture, but there’s still quite often in the sales process going to be objectives. And that’s my objections, I’m sorry.
John Livesay: Let’s take the most common one, which is your price is too high. And we can use a story along with the concept of, our client Jet Blue or JFK, when we gave them the bid, they felt that, “Gosh, this is more expensive than we thought.” And we explained to them that when we did another airport in Toronto, that the reason that we needed to have this budget higher than expected. And then they just went on to tell another story, where they describe a problem and a solution and they were so glad they had that money budgeted, so that they didn’t have to go fixing something in advance is much less expensive than having to fix something that you didn’t even plan possibly going wrong.
John Livesay: That sometimes money you invest in things prevent problems now, and all that good stuff. So again, storytelling is a way to handle objections. You just say, you don’t make them feel crazy for bringing up the question. First of all, you listen and you look at it as a buying sign and then you say, “Let me tell you a story of somebody else who felt the same way, and here’s how they ended up justifying the cost or where they found the money or whatever it is.”
John Jantsch: I’ve always been a big fan of case studies. Showing somebody, “Oh yeah, your kind of business, here’s a result we got for them.” I mean in a lot of ways, couldn’t you use this idea of storytelling more effectively in written documents and webpages as well?
John Livesay: Yes, I think you can certainly with … You don’t have the opportunity to present your case studies in person or on the phone. Make sure that the case studies you have on your website use the same story telling structure just went over so that people are taken on a journey and that’s not just a bunch of before and after pictures with no story.
Speaker 2: Right, which is the typical sort of, here’s the problem, here’s the solution. Do you think in terms of companies equipping their salespeople or just a salesperson going out there and training themselves. Do they need to be looking for new skills, different skills?
John Livesay: I think we’re always needing to keep our skills honed and practiced. And when you get to the place where you think you know everything and you don’t need to practice anymore, is when you really are not at your best. If Tiger Woods still gets coaching and actors who’ve won Academy awards still rehearse, we as salespeople definitely need to keep practicing.
John Jantsch: I’m assuming you do consulting on this very idea because you’ve talked about a couple examples of that. Do you have a process when you walk in? Do you have to start unpacking, finding, unearthing these stories and then say, “Yeah, that’s something that you guys ought to be using.” What’s your process for finding those with a company?
John Livesay: Well, if I’m helping a company prepare for this one hour interview against competitors, the process is, we reverse engineer the ending of the presentation. So many endings are, “Well that’s all we got, any questions?” Horrible ending. We work on, what do you want the audience of the [inaudible] buyers to think, what do you want them to feel and what do you want them to do? We develop answers for that and that’ll be our closing. And then I said, “Okay, what’s going to be the opening?” “Oh, thanks for this opportunity, I’m excited to be here.”
John Livesay: Ugh, nobody cares that you’re excited. It’s not about you. Let’s make sure that the opening pulls in our understanding of the problem and why we’re the right people to solve it. And then we look at the team slide, make sure there’s some really interesting stories about why you became an architect or a lawyer or whatever it is you’re doing as opposed to, “Hi, my name is Joe, I’ve been here 10 years.” Nobody cares.
John Livesay: But when I was 11, I played with Legos and that’s what inspired me to become an architect. Now I have a son who’s 11, I still play with Legos and I would bring that passion to this job. Well that’s personal, memorable, all that. And then I work with, as we said, the case studies, turning those case studies into stories. That’s my process, that helps people win because, the problem remember again, is they’re not memorable, stories making memorable and instead of pushing out information, stories make you magnetic that you pull people in.
John Jantsch: Yeah, the process you just described doesn’t sound terribly unlike, you might prepare a keynote speech does it?
John Livesay: It’s very similar, and people have to realize you’ve got to practice it and has structure and there’s pauses and timing. Once we have the content down, then we start working on the delivery.
John Jantsch: Speaking with John Livesay, author of Better Selling Through Storytelling. So John, you want to tell people where they can find more information on you and of course, pick up a copy of the book.
John Livesay: Right? If you text the word pitch, P-I-T-C-H, to six, six, eight, six, six, I will send you a free sneak peek of the book. Or you can go to my website, John Livesay, L-I-V-E-S-A-Y. Or if you can’t remember any of that, just Google The Pitch Whisper and my content will come up.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Well, John, it was great to finally getting this recorded and hopefully we’ll run into you soon, out there on the road.
John Livesay: Thanks John.